440th Armored Field Artillery Battalion Transcribed from copies sent to me by Vicki Nichols (daughter of A/440 AFAB veteran Robert E. Gentry) and others scanned by Wesley Johnston from the original documents in Box 15698 (7th Armored Division 607-FA(440)-0.1 to 607-FA(440)-0.3) of Record Group 407 (Adjutant General's Office) at National Archives II in College Park, MD by
Wesley Johnston, son of Walter Johnston of Company "B", 38th Armored Infantry Battalion - all except September-October 1944
Ruud Wilmsen of Harderwijk, The Netherlands - September-October 1944
Edited by Wesley Johnston, son of Walter Johnston of Company "B", 38th Armored Infantry Battalion. The original spellings and format are generally retained in the transcript. Word wrap in which a line of text continues to the next line is not necessarily as in the original. In some cases in the transcription, the font size is reduced from the original, in order to keep each page together. If there is any question of accuracy, please contact Wesley Johnston (email@example.com) so that the original scanned images can be checked to assure that the transcript does or does not match the original.
In some months, there are both the signed (and security-designated) report and an unsigned or unsecured report. In this transcription, I have used the final signed report for all months, with the following exceptions:
November 1944 (undated): unsigned and unsecured draft (I do not have the signed and secured report.)
December 1944 (dated 1 January 1945): both a draft and the final signed version are included
440th ARMORED FIELD ARTILLERY BATTALION
Unit History: 1 August-31 August, 1944 The first week of August, 1944, found the 440th Armored Field Artillery Battalion still quartered at Tidworth, England, with preparations for a movement to France far advanced.
During the week, the full quota of M-7's was finally received; vehicles received their full combat loads; and the troops were supplied with all clothing and equipment on which shortages had existed.
At 0657 on the morning of Monday, August 7, under the command of Lt. Col. Norman E. Hart, commanding officer, the unit marched to a marshalling area near Winchester. Here it arrived at 1000, and went into bivouac in a waiting tent area.
Batteries B and C, accompanied by part of A Battery, moved out for the embarkation point at Southampton at 0615 the next morning, August 8, followed two hours later by the remainder of the battalion. Certain components of Service Battery remained in the marshalling area for the time being.
That day Batteries B and C sailed for France. Meanwhile, awaiting embarkation orders, the rest of the battalion bivouacked overnight in a park area in the city of Southampton.
Embarkation was completed at noon on August 9; and at midnight, in convoy the last of the battalion cleared for France.
Fair weather and a calm sea contributed to making an uneventful passage; no enemy activity was evident. The coast of France was sighted on 10 August, For the greater part of the day, the advance party skirted the coast and sailed southward. During the afternoon the LST shoaled off "Utah" Beach and disembarkation was complete at 2030. Immediately, a 28 mile march to Vesly was begun; and near this village the battalion made its first bivouac in France. Here, too, for the first time, men heard the sound of distant cannonading, and witnessed enemy air activity. Until the battalion was reformed with the arrival of Service Battery Sunday morning, 13 august, the organization remained in this area. At 1145 that day, the entire organization left its initial bivouac for its combat mission in France.
On the following morning the column had reached a point 130 miles from its start and only 25 miles east of Laval. en route, the units passed the following towns and villages in the Cotentin Peninsula: Avranches, Fougeres, St. Helier, Larchamp, Enree, and La Bagonniers. Maintenance and a warm breakfast started the battalion back on the road. One mile east of La Ferte Bernard, at 1806, the outfit went into bivouac. Guards and bazooka teams were posted throughout the area, with the news of sniper activity nearby.
Page 2 "Unit History"
Throughout this long march, French villages greeted the armored caravan with flowers, food and wine. Thereafter such spontaneous demonstrations of welcome became commonplace.
During the next day's march (15 August) the tank commanded by 2nd Lt. Ode Odens, forward observer, was damaged when it struck a road mine near St. Lazure; fortunately, no occupant was injured.
At 1513, the battalion settled into bivouac in the open harvest field adjacent to the village of St. Denis. The 33rd Engineers and the 38th Infantry were bivouacked nearby. Here the battalion lay inactive for three days awaiting orders. An instant that occurred at this time almost cost the life of the Commanding Officer.
While flying a mission with 1st Lt. Luther Sumter, early in the evening of 17 August, Col. Hart and the pilot, in an artillery liaison plane, were fired upon by ground weapons and escaped injury. It was not apparent weather the troops who fired were friendly or enemy. Bullets passed through the fuselage dangerously close to the CO and the pilot.
For two nights in succession, the fires from burning Chartres were visible on the horizon.
The battalion was detailed as rear guard for Division Headquarters on 16 August. The stalemate of inactivity was broken on 19 August when the battalion moved slowly, on congested roads, to the town of Marville. It bivouacked two miles south of that village. The following day the 440th fired its first combat mission when C Battery, operating in the vicinity of Rouvres, registered on a house believed to have been occupied by Germans.
The organization resumed its march the following day amid reports of enemy withdrawals to the east and north. A road encounter with snipers at 2030, resulted in the death of one enemy soldier and the capture of four. No causalities were received within the battalion. A few hours later nine more prisoners were taken by A Battery as the outfit lay in bivouac in the outskirts of Marchais.
The 440th suffered its first loss on 22 August, in the village of Soisy Sur Ecoles. There, during a brief halt, Private Antonio Annaiballi ASN 31l32476, Service Battery, was killed instantly by sniper fire. The same day Battery B fired a concentration on enemy machine guns and anti-tank guns and an hour later, at 2100, the battalion went into bivouac 2 miles south of its objective, Melun.
From this point the battalion delivered its first night concentration: 20 minutes of preparatory fire. This was followed by another concentration at dawn. Harrassing fire struck the area during the morning, but no casualties resulted. The 695 Armored F. A. Battalion was attatched to the 440th in the course of the day, with the 177th in support with its 155 guns.
Page 3, "Unit History"
Two more men were lost in the day's action (23 August). Heavy counter battery at 1640 resulted in the death of Private John F. Delaney (ASN 36313484) and PFC Michael Durdan (ASN 13081464). Both were members of Battery B. Four men were wounded slightly.
On August 24, the battalion laid down heavy concentrations in concert with its supporting and attached units. This was supporting fire on the enemy in the vicinity of Melun. The concentrations were highly effective. FO's reported the destruction of two German 88's and their crews. Late in the afternoon, during counter battery fire on the CP area, air observaion was instrumental in the destruction of five more guns and crews. Other enemy personnel in the vicinity were killed or scattered. This operation was conducted despite counter battery and heavy enemy flak.
The next day, after one concentration, the battalion moved toward the Seine with a crossing in prospect. This was thwarted by supeseding orders, and the unit made bivouac on the south bank of the river near Tilly. The two succeeding days found the battalion bivouacking in the vicinity of Herecy, of Fontainebleau, and near Beton-Bazoches.
On August 28, the unit was split into parts of three combat teams. Headquarters, Battery B and attached sections (Combat Team "E") crossing the Marne at Chateau-Thierry by way of La Ferte Bernard, Gaucher, and Conde En Brie, bivouacked for the night four miles east of Chateau Thierry. Here shortly after dark, an M-7 was lost when the carriage accidentally caught fire. Its combat load of ammunition was lost in explosion. No casualties occurred.
The fourth fatality for the month occurred on 29 August when PFC Oscar King (ASN 36053934) of A Battery was killed by strafing fire from a German plane as his battery was moving in column near Orainville.
The end of the month found the unit making preparations to go into a division assembly area near Verdun.
440th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
APO 257, U.S. Army
1 October 1944
Unit History - 1 September - 30 September 1944
Few months have been as eventful for the 440th Armored Field Artillery Battalion as September of 1944 for crowded into its short thirty days was a dizzy whirl of events which carried the battalion under its commander, Lt. Col. Norman E. Hart, from the historic battlefields of Verdun to the Franco-German border town of Metz and thence north across France through the Kingdom of Belgium.
In direct support of the CCA column which was attacking Verdun, the 440th together with the other components of CCR left its bivouac on the evening of August 31 and proceeding through the town of Les Islettas arrived at Verdun at approximately 0645 the following morning. Verdun was no exception to the host of small villages which had greeted the battalion in its march through France for excited and jubilant folk in all walks of life stood on the sidewalks while others waved from their windows a greeting of welcome. Continuing through the city our task force went into bivouac at 1025, one half mile south of Morgemoulin where it remained for the rest of the day. We later moved to a point south of Vaux Des Damloup and there remained for the next few days apparently immobilized for lack of gas.
Old shell craters and narrow trenches that time had covered with a blanket of grass were visible in the vicinity and gently reminded us that we were standing on the historic battlefields of the last Great War. Off in the distance stood a massive stone monument, erected to the memory of those Frenchmen who had paid the supreme sacrifice in that war.
On the evenings of 2, 3, and 4th the enemy, contrary to the honeyed words of news commentators and press reporters that "there just isn't any Luftwaffe" came over our position and dropped bombs on nearby Verdun, endeavoring evidently to destroy the one remaining bridge across the Meuse River and which had been saved by quick-thinking Frenchmen who disconnected the wires to heavy charge that the retreating Germans had placed under it. Fortunately our visitors' aim was bad for they completely missed their target, though they did do considerable damage to nearby buildings.
On the afternoon of September 4th General Silvester in a simple ceremony presented the award of the Purple Heart to four members of our organization, namely Pvt. Harry L. Gilbreth, 36167389, of Hq. Btry., Pvt. Paul W. Connors, 31132379 of Hq. Btry., Pfc Carlton K. Piper, 31132363 of Btry A and Cpl. Albert A. Dail, 34179090 of Btry B.
The battalion on September 7th moved into position south of the deserted village of Rezonville and there set up its CP at 1230. A howling wind did not deter our air observers from going aloft and
through the combined efforts of our pilots and forward observers the battalion managed to effectively fire a total of 368 rounds into enemy positions. 1st Lt. Clarence E. Sprague of Btry C was seriously wounded while serving as a dismounted FO with the advancing infantry during this encounter with the enemy.
Divisional orders were issued on September 8th which announced the award of the Bronze Star Medal to Capt. John J. McGuinness and 2d Lt. Ode Odens both of Hq Btry for meritorious service performed by them during the Battle of Melun, France on the 23 and 24 August 1944.
The second Sunday of the month found the battalion located SE of the village of Ste Marie Aux Chemes where it went into position at 2200. Mine shafts and hoists to the north of us indicated that we were gradually moving into the much coveted and much fought over Saar Valley.
Like a burglar blowing a safe, our guns opened a thunderous salvo at the enemy at 0650 the following morning in support of attacking CCR task forces, but unlike a safe, the enemy offered stiff resistance and refused to be broken though much of their fire power was neutralized and a battery of 88mm guns was destoryed1 and all its personnel killed. Later in the day our firing batteries displaced forward about 2000 yards to a position northwest of Ste Marie Aux Chemes in order to increase their range. At 1600 our battalion commander, Lt. Col. Norman E. Hart was called forward to take command of all CCR forces as Col. Maloney had been wounded and had been evacuated. In making the tally for the day, it was discovered that the battalion had fired a total of 2635 rounds into enemy strong points.
Civilian traffic through our bivouac reached a new high when we first arrived at Ste Marie and it seemed to some of us that practically all the villagers had left their homes to wander through our area and greet us. It finally became necessary to place guards at strategic places in the area but every now and then an intrepid and not-easily-discouraged civilian would sneak through before being discovered.
With the coming of a new commander for CCR, Lt. Col. Hart was relieved of that position and reassumed command of our battalion on September 12th.
Our next assembly area proved to be a position north of Sponville where the 440th together with units of CCR and CCA regrouped for a general attack on strongpoints leading to the German border town of Metz. Traveling in a southeasterly direction we left our bivouac at Sponville at 1415 and arrived at our destination south of Arry, France at 0130 the following morning, 16 September. During the march Btry C was in the advanced guard and reported firing 115 rounds into enemy positions. The thunder of their cannons could be heard echoing in the hills every quarter hour, as they delivered harassing fire to the enemy.
Btry C while still continuing in its capacity as advanced guard suffered its first loss and the battalions fifth on the 16th of September when Pfc. Fred Malone, 34576070 was killed by enemy artillery or mortar fire at 1730. Eight other enlisted men of Btry C were also wounded this day and Pfc Floyd Brown became "Missing in Action". Reports later confirmed our belief that Pfc Frown had been wounded by the 1730 shell fire and had been evacuated by a passing medical unit.
From our CP at Arry fire was also directed at the town of Lorry and this town was occupied by our forces at 1800. Contributing much to our peace of mind and not to say the least of our physical well being, enemy shell fire on our positions diminished considerably after our tankers and infantry entered Lorry.
The next town on our agenda of "Towns to be occupied" was Sillegny and a hard nut to crack it was. For the next few days our guns together with those of the 434th, 274th, and 773rd Field Artillery Battalions shelled the town and our forward observers reported excellent results. Capt. William A. Sharp on duty with forward elements of CCR during this attack was injured by shrapnel and evacuated to a nearby hospital. Also, the forward observer tank, commanded by 1st Lt. C. E. Schwartz, was destroyed but fortunately none of the occupants were injured and they managed to make their way back to our lines safely.
Though it is believed that Tec. 5 Louis Rescigno of Battery A, was killed in the action at Sillegny, a report listing him as "Missing in Action" was forwarded to higher headquarters.
On September 20th CCA relieved CCR in the general attack, though our battalion remained in support of attacking units. Our intermittent fire throughout the next few days was of a counterbattery nature as we endeavored to silence enemy guns that were firing on our position.
The fog and haze which had descended on us as a postlude to the constant heavy rain which we had had during the past week lifted considerably to permit a few rays of warm sunshine to seep through the clouds end clear the atmosphere, so that when our convoy of vehicles left our bivouac at Arry on Sunday, September 24th, we saw for the first time the havoc and destruction caused in this town by friendly guns as they pushed the enemy closer to his borders. For the first time, too, we saw the Moselle winding in all its glory through the beautiful valley below us.
We returned to our old bivouac at Sponville after leaving Arry and for the next twenty-four hours the rattle of gas cans and grease guns indicated that maintenance of vehicles was in progress. Though rain continued to fall all through the day and caused French earth to rapidly become sticky mud, morale was high. Maybe the addition of a few "extras" to our "C" rations had something to do with it, - could be. That night, our battalion received word of its transfer to the First Army, XIX Corps and at 1830 we commenced our 200 mile march north across France and Belgium to join up with the other components of our new army. Enroute we passed through the following towns: Mars La Tour, Conflans, Etain, Longuyon, Longwy, Arlon, Bastonge, Marche, Huy, St. Trond, Hasselt, Asch and Bree and our battalion closed in bivouac at 2110 on the 26th of September on the outskirts of the little town of Meesrwyk, Belgium.
Throughout the march, Belgium villagers not to be outdone by their French neighbors greeted us with warm smiles and hearty handshakes and were lavish with their fruits and beverages.
We remained in our bivouac at Meesrwyk, Belgium for several days and finally orders came through directing us to Holland. Instructions were that we would team up with the 11th British Armored Division in a coordinated pincer movement which we hoped would cut off a great number of the enemy. Traveling in a northeasterly direction, the battalion left bivouac at 1930, 29 September and enroute to Asten, Holland which was our assembly point, passed through the following towns, Dilsen, Kinroy, Weert, Holland, Maarheeze, Zomeren and Asten where after a 40 mile march the battalion went into bivouac at 2400. Refreshed by a night's sleep, our column moved out at 0900 the next morning and we terminated our march two and one-half hours later at a little town called Oploo, Holland where our guns went into position.
440th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
APO 257, U.S. Army
Unit History 1 October - 31 October 1944 History books record a popular expression of many years ago and it was that "All roads lead to Rome." We in '44 have a similar expression, namely that "All roads lead to Berlin" and figuratively speaking, during the month of October, we of the 440th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, under our commander, Lt. Col. Norman E. Hart advanced slowly but persistently along some of those roads.
The first phase of our October operations started on the 1st when our guns took up positions on the outskirts of Oploo, Holland, a small rural community twenty five miles north of the city of Asten. Enemy infantry elements were known to be well entrenched on the west bank of the Maas river and that the cities of Venlo and Venraij were enemy strongpoints.
At the time our battalion was in general support of the 489th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, a component of CCA which was on the right flank in the attack, with its brother combat command, CCB, on the left flank, combat commands abreast. Later CCR relieved Combat Command "B" and we were subsequently relieved from CCA to support our own combat command, CCR.
It was extremely difficult for our forward observers to discern any targets due to the fact that the enemy was so well dug in and greatly concealed by thick undergrowth and trees which gave the enemy the advantage of "seeing but not being seen" and resulted in a very unfortunate incident. On the afternoon of October 1st the forward observer tank, commanded by Lt. Odens, was disabled by enemy fire, though none of the occupants were injured. What was believed to be a 75mm, shell had penetrated through the belly of the tank and broken one of its axles.
For the next six days the attack went on in a series of give and take blows. Our guns as well as those of our brother command and British guns shelled the enemy all along the river and mercilessly pounded the city of Venlo. On October 2nd, spitfires and P-47's joined in the attack and one of our FO's reported that a P-47 was downed after delivering its bombs. On the morning of October 3rd at 0630, Hq Battery received severe enemy counterbattery fire, causing two casualties and disabling one vehicle. Tec. 4 Fred Apel, one of the casualties, was evacuated and the disabled vehicle was towed away for repair.2 The enemy launched a heavy counterattack on October 4th which continued into the morning of October 5th and during this time our forces were the recipients of severe artillery fire, though fortunately none of it fell in our area. Our battalion together with cooperating artillery battalions repaid the enemy's fire in kind by delivering several "serenades" early in the morning hours with excellent effect.
Though it was an old weapon of the enemy's, it was new to us, the "nebelwerfers" or whistling bombs which fell some distance from our position on October 5th. A smoke streak through the sky accompanied by a shrill whistling sound made everyone edge closer to their slit trenches. This date also a replacement for our disabled tank arrived, it was a new Sherman medium.
Though counterbattery fire had been received in the general vicinity of our position at Oploo throughout the period of time we stayed there, only on two or
three occassions did we feel that the enemy "had us in their sights" so to speak, and during those times the shells came uncomfortably close. A case in point was the shelling of our position on October 7th. Late in the afternoon units of our forces as well as British units began displacing over a road not far from our position and continued to do so until late in the evening. It was believed the enemy sensed this for at 2200 the shells started coming over and continued to do so systematically almost every half hour until 2400 when there was a slight respite affording us a chance to move from our position without mishap. During this shelling no hits were made and no casualties reported.
We left our position at Oploo on the 8th at 0230 and the rate of march to our new position was extremely slow due to other units which preceeded us. In fact it wasn't until seven hours later that our new position came into sight after having travelled only forty miles. Though the town fathers had failed to signpost the village, our maps indicated that we were taking up positions at Behelp, a small rural community, two miles east of Asten, Holland and one mile east of the Zuid Willems Vaart (Canal). Bridges across this canal had been demolished by the routed Nazis so improvised bridges were laid by the engineers and it was over these bridges at Asten that we travelled in order to reach our new position.
French mud was sticky and bothersome but the only apt description for Dutch mud was "treacherous." During our march from Oploo, the word was "keep to the road" as any deviation was sure to mean trouble for driver and vehicle and another tow job for the maintenance crew.
With our arrival at Behelp we came under the general command of the British Second Army and under the particular command of Lt. Col. Rhea who was in charge of our task force of the same name. We were to be a holding force and in the process were to support road blocks and various patrols throughout our sector. Our zone of of3 fire was from Nederweert to Meijel, and covered a 7 mile front.